John 15: 1–17. Jesus Dialogs With the Disciples. Pt. III.
I Am the Vine.

Key Notes: Why a vine? Abiding. Who is the greatest--again and again. Jesus' love: ultimate intimacy, special intensity, God's initiative, their productivity.

It is intriguing to ask why Jesus chose to use the vine as a teaching tool and why He uses it here, in the middle of His last message to the disciples. This lesson will give us some clues. The rest of that dialogue is the subject of the next lesson.

15:1 “I am the true vine….”
Was there a false, or failed vine? Israel was spoken of as a vine at least six times in the OT, and always as wild, and failing to produce good fruit. (Isa.5:1–7; Jer.2:21; Ezek.15;’:10–14; Hos. 10:1; Psa. 80:8). Jesus and the disciples will pick up the failed mission of Israel to bring God’s glory to the nations. (Isa.66:18) Jesus' vine parables focus on the rebellious workers in the vineyard (Matt.20:1–16; Matt.21:28–32, 33–46) rather than the vine itself. These parables are prophetic of Israel’s vine keepers and their treatment of Christ The true vine in John 15 is seen as productive.

What is a grapevine good for? It is a valuable food-crop and the care of a vineyard is an industry. It is a major food and drink source, supplying grapes, juice, wine, raisins, and leaves to make wraps for rice and meats. The dry branches are used to make wreaths and baskets but are not particularly good for fuel or wooden structures. (Ezek.15:1-).

Why did He choose a vine instead of a tree or a bush or a flower? Partly because pruning is a key part of the culture, done thoroughly, even drastically, every year. Also, broken and dead wood can hide in a vine where the branches are entangled, whereas it would be more obvious in a tree or a bush where the branches are spread out.

15:1–2 “…and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
When does God's cutting occur? I had assumed that it would be done yearly, as soon as it was clear that no fruit was being produced by that branch, as is the practice in vine culture. But people do not live on a year-cycle as the grape-vine does. As we know from the life-story of Christians, some bloom and produce fruit for God late in life after years of barrenness. God is patient with us.

15:3 “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.”
The tool that the Father uses for pruning is His Word.

15:4–11 The word “abide” is written seven times in these verses, ten times in the whole narrative, using the vine as a parable.
                  The life of a branch depends on its organic connection to the vine.
                  The fruit produced comes as vital nourishment flows through our connection to Christ.
                  Branches that fail to produce are cut off from the vine and burned.
                  Answers to prayer depend on organic union with the vine.
                  Fruit-bearing is proof of being attached to Jesus, being a disciple.

But how do we abide? It feels nebulous but it means simply to stay with Jesus. There are some hints about how we are to do that.

Loving Him is abiding in Him. 15:9
The Word of God is the pruner (15:7) of our folly and trivia; we have ready access to it.
Prayer is a privilege, but also a resource for staying close to Jesus’ heart.15:7
Obeying His commandments is necessary. 15:10

What might be the consequences of abiding in Jesus? Joy, fullness of joy.

15:12–17 Then Jesus returned to His second topic, the love of the disciples for each other. Why does He keep coming back to it? Are they having a problem loving each other? Certainly. They have different temperaments, different backgrounds and capacities. And they are only cooperative as long as Jesus is leader.

On three occasions the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest.
The first recorded quarrel broke out after Jesus’ second announcement of the Cross. Matt.18:1; Mk.9:33
The second quarrel came after Jesus’ third announcement of His coming death. James and John came with their mother, asking to be on either side of Jesus in His Kingdom. The rest of the disciples were indignant with the brothers. Matt.20:17–28
The third time came after Judas was exposed as the traitor at the Last Supper. Lk.22:24

When the disciples were threatened with loss of their Leader, they were sorrowful at first, and then competitive. Each knew he was better than the others and should dominate. Peter, James and John? How come they are special? [They were selected to be at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt.17:1–13) and at Gethsemane. Matt.26:36–37]

So Jesus will say it three times: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 13:34; 15:12, 17—once for each of their quarrels.

His own example of love is the ultimate in intensity—dying for His friends. But because of His sacrifice, such intensity is also expected in human relationships. It is expected of husbands, for example:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her….” Eph.5:25

His love gives them special intimacy. They are His friends because He is telling them what He is doing. Servants must obey without question. The disciples are allowed to question, and although they also must obey, they are in Jesus’ confidence. What He is telling them is breath-taking.

His love for them is His own initiative. They are Jesus’ friends because He chose them; they did not chose Him. We are likewise all chosen. Eph.1:4

His love will lead to their productivity . “I have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. “ That fruit was the Church.

Finally, His love will lead to their access to the Father. Their requests will be given to them.

Comments:

If pruning is good for the individual, it is also good for the Church. The old must make a way so that the young may grow. Pruning is painful, but it allows new growth to spring up, reviving hearts and refreshing the community. It brings hope and joy to the young, who otherwise may never have to the opportunity to flourish in the thick overgrowth of seasoned adults.

We have now the fifth example of the relationship of Jesus and the Father as a model of His relationship to us
“As the Father has loved me so have I loved you.” (15:9). These examples are unique to the Gospel of John.
As we have seen in Ephesians, the love He has for us is the love we should show to one another. Eph.5:25–33
He elaborates in the next verse by adding the element of obedience.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (15:10)

Why did Jesus use the vine as his teaching device in the middle of His final instruction? The next topic He will take up in John 16 is the world’s hatred of Him and the disciples. They are going to have to stay close to their Source to keep the juice flowing and the fruit in season when the weather gets hot. It will be a vivid reminder that they are not alone and can never be alone to face the hostile world. Christians like John Bunyan lived years in jail and yet have remained productive for the Kingdom. He wrote a world classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress” while in prison.

In conclusion,
Stay close to Jesus.
Love your brothers and sisters.
Joy and fruitfulness are your rewards.
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The life of John Bunyan may be found as a prologue to “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Bunyan’s life is reviewed in The Hidden Smile of God. {John Piper. Crossway, 2003; p.41–78}along with biographical notes on two other great Christians. There is much nourishment for persecuted and harassed believers.